60 Minutes and correspondent Scott Pelley saw how tough it is when we spent three weeks with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines regiment. They're part of the 21,000 reinforcements ordered over the last several months by President Obama. The new plan, called counter-insurgency, sounds simple: separate the enemy from the people, then convince the Afghans to support their government. But it requires more forces, more time and more risk.
While the president is wrestling with whether to send up to 40,000 more troops, we joined with the battalion's Company G, "Golf Company," which was taking the highest casualties in the Taliban homeland.
In September, the men of Golf Company assembled for roll call in their combat outpost. First Sergeant Robert Pullen shouted for Marines who could not answer.
This was the roll of the dead.
The company's 200 Marines paused for a battlefield memorial, for the seven they call "brothers" killed in action: Lance Corporal Jonathan F. Stroud; Lance Corporal Gregory A. Posey; Lance Corporal Dennis J. Burrow; Lance Corporal Javier Olvera; Lance Corporal Patrick W. Schimmel; Lance Corporal Leopold F. Damas; and Lance Corporal David R. Hall.
In July, Golf Company was pushing into a part of Afghanistan never occupied by U.S. troops. During an exhausting three-day march from battalion headquarters to what would become their combat outpost, in brutally hot temperatures, they were ambushed repeatedly by the Taliban, the enemy that carries the name of the fundamentalist Islamic government overthrown in the U.S. invasion after 9/11.
But the enemy isn't one force: "Taliban" is a catch-all for a collection of tribes and warlords. Some are religious extremists, some are drug traffickers, and in Golf Company's area, many are locals fighting for money.
Golf Company set up in Koshtay, a village in the Garmsir District of Helmand Province near Pakistan.
It's a strange twist of history that Golf Company's area used to be called "Little America." In the 1950s, a massive U.S. foreign aid project dug the canals that now feed half the world's heroin poppies, and shoulder-high marijuana, both prime sources of Taliban cash.
Golf Company covers just a few square miles. The job is to push the Taliban out and stay in place.
Second Lieutenant Dan O'Hara from Chicago is a platoon leader. It's his first combat tour, and two of his Marines had been killed.
Asked how he can distinguish the enemy from citizens, O'Hara told Pelley, "For the most part, you don't until they start shooting at you. And even then, their tactic is hit and run. They will shoot and before you get the chance to close on them, they will run away and kind of just run back into the population."
Lieutenant Colonel Christian Cabaniss leads the 2/8 battalion. He sent Golf Company into battle with orders to use restraint.